English Life and Manners in the Later Middle Ages

By A. Abram | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER X
FAMILY LIFE

FEW subjects are as bewildering as the marriage customs of the Middle Ages: they are so full of contradictions that to give a lucid account of them is almost as difficult as to describe the colour of a chameleon. But Family Life is so much affected by the estimation in which marriage is held, that we are forced to make an attempt to understand the medieval point of view on this important matter.

Marriage, it was held, was a sacrament and too sacred an act to come under the jurisdiction of temporal judges, therefore it was governed, not by the Common Law, but by Canon Law, and breaches of marriage vows were punished, not by the State, but by the Church; nevertheless the civic authorities sometimes took the matter into their own hands.1 Yet in spite of this lofty conception, it was in many cases as much a business transaction as any carried on in the market-place, and the contracting parties discussed the terms of the bargain with as much keenness as chapmen haggling over the prices of their goods. The material advantages to be gained from it, the settlement of lands, or the payment of money, were the chief points at issue: compatibility

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1
See above, p. 19, and cf. p. 333.

-113-

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